The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (The Checquey Files #1) – Daniel O’Malley

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Hardcover, 1st Edition, 486 pages
Published January 11th 2012 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: Library

“Dear You, the body you are wearing used to be mine.”

Imagine, if you will, waking up on a bench in the park one day, surrounded by bodies of men who presumably were trying (and failed) to kill you. You know nothing of who you are; you don’t have a single memory of the time you have lived before you opened your eyes. And then you slip your hand into your pocket and your hand encounters a letter that begins a tale more bizarre than even you, a stranger in what is most certainly your own body.

The letters tell the woman that her name is Mafynwy Thomas and she has two choices. One, she can take the money that is in a bank somewhere, leave the country, and start a life that is all hers. Two, she can slip back into the life the old Mafynwy Thomas led and live as the Rook, a position of immense power in an organization called Chequy that deals with the arcane and the supernatural. The Chequy is made up of people with different powers and people with no supernatural powers but who nonetheless have skills that are invaluable to those who do. The Chequy is brilliant and vastly important to the continued (relative) peace of the United Kingdom. Agents of the Chequy daily battle supernatural creatures and manifestations that would otherwise cause chaos and rioting in the streets. For the new Mafynwy, the choice is obvious…until it is taken away from her.

Belatedly she learns that there is someone in the Chequy who is trying to kill her. Someone who has stripped her of her personality, memories, and everything that made the previous Mafynwy…Mafynwy. So New Mafynwy ambles into the Rookery (the name of the office she commands) and meets her secretary whom she cannot trust because Mafynwy cannot trust anyone.

This should be a pleasant little interview. All I have to do is put on my scary face.”
“You have a scary face?” Ingrid sounded skeptical.
“Yes,” said Myfanwy indignantly. “I have a very scary face.”
Ingrid surveyed her for a moment. “You may wish to take off the cardigan then, Rook Thomas,” she advised tactfully. “The flowers on the pocket detract somewhat from your menace.”

I’ve often found that male authors cannot write authentic females to save their lives but Daniel O’Malley achieves that and more. Thomas (old Mafynwy) left her new self a series of letters that detail all sorts of things she felt her new self ought to know. These letters function as a bridge between the two women (and they do feel like two different women because all they seem to share is a body) and a sort of relationship coheres between the two expressions of the same woman. Thomas was a timid sort who was scared of everything and people knew that and took advantage of her timorous nature. People who were lower in rank than her bullied her and walked all over her. Even though her power is one that can reduce a grown man to a mewling baby, Thomas wasn’t able to gain confidence and assert herself. Mafynwy has no such trouble. She slowly familiarizes herself with her self and realizes just how powerful she really is both in terms of her position in the Chequy and her power to control people. She can take control of a person’s body, kill them with a thought or make them say and do anything she wants. Power. People who don’t realize she isn’t Thomas and try to treat her in the same overbearing way they used to treat her get such exquisite smackdowns that I almost wept with pleasure. So Mafynwy’s a wonderful character and it is a pleasure seeing her grow from a blank canvas into a dynamic complex character.

Before I speak about the worldbuilding, let me talk about the snark. Of which there is a plenty.

“Yes, Minister, it turns out that there was a mysterious force that caused that plane to crash. We call it gravity.”

More?

“She was tall, and dressed in the kind of casual clothes that will let you kill someone easily and won’t draw attention from passersby. Khakis are good for this sort of thing.”

Okay for more you will need to read the book. Anyway, Mafynwny has to figure out who the rat in Chequy is and by this I mean the traitor because whoever it is is working with the Chequy’s sworn enemies, The Grafters, who have a long and bloody history with the Chequy. But in between playing detective, Mafynwy has to deal with fungal cults, vampire bosses, bureaucracy, annoying meetings, and a counterpart who is one mind spread over three or four bodies and yes that is as creepy as it sounds. The pacing of the narrative is wonderful and while on the first reading, I found Thomas’s letters an obstruction to the flow of the story, the second reading had me changing my mind completely. Thomas’s letters connects the two women and roots Mafynwny and is necessary not just for her but for the reader to be able to see the enormity of the crime committed against Thomas.

O’Malley combines humour, snark, and wonderful storytelling to create The Rook. It’s a book you should read if you enjoyed X-Files. Heck, even if you didn’t enjoy The X-Files, read this. O’Malley’s ability to combine the mundane with the arcane is infinitely funny and wonderful to read.

Before I leave you rushing to the nearest bookstore/library, here’s the trailer which is worth a watch: